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Colin McGourty

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Magnus Carlsen ends Champions Chess Tour on a high

Magnus Carlsen finished the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour by beating Jan-Krzysztof Duda for a clean sweep of defeating all his opponents. That earned him $50,000 and took his Tour earnings to $242,500, $80,000 more than 2nd placed Duda. A spectacular last day also saw Anish Giri beat Wesley So in Armageddon, Praggnanandhaa defeat Arjun Erigaisi, and Liem Le take down Shakhriyar Mamedyarov.

Magnus Carlsen had wrapped up overall victory in the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals with a round to spare, but there was no chance of an anti-climactic finish since he was on a mission to win all his matches. In fact, there was a great fight in all four matches on the final day, helped by the fact that, as always, there was $7,500 on the line in each clash.

Magnus would later comment on his approach to the final match:

There have been a lot of good events this year on the tour, some a little bit worse as well, but super-happy to finish on a high note, and today it was just a pleasure to play knowing that I had it in the bag and I could just relax.

He got creative in the opening with 1.g3 and a system he’d played against Rustam Kasimdzhanov in the 2019 Isle of Man Open. He only varied on move 10.

Magnus remembered the earlier game and revealed afterwards:

I burned a lot of time there as well, and I played 10.cxd5, which is a decent move, but he should have gone 10…exd5 there (Rustam played 10…Nxd5?!), so I was thinking during the game today I didn’t remember why 10.Be3 was not good, and then he played 10…Re8 and I was like, oh, yeah, that’s why, so the position just is nothing for White regardless of what you do!

Things really got tough for Magnus after 18…Bh6!, which Magnus noted he’d missed.

Duda had real chances, but Magnus dug deep and ultimately held relatively comfortably.

The match turned on Game 2, where after a somewhat risky opening Magnus played 11…Nh6!, a move Peter Leko wanted to give three exclamation marks. Magnus revealed how he’d come up with it:

I didn’t know the position after Nh6, but it’s not an untypical move, I think, especially after you played f6, to put it on f7. That particular system that I played has been kind of advocated by neural networks, and it’s not so bad, actually.

After thinking for almost six minutes Duda went for what Magnus called the “over-zealous” sacrifice 12.e5?! (Leko called it “the decision of a desperate man”), and the rest was very smooth, with a big advantage on the clock enabling Magnus to avoid any tricks when Duda went for complications. Ultimately Magnus had a bishop plus four pawns for a rook…

…and while three of them perished the fourth was unstoppable after 63…Bd1+!

You might have bet on Magnus to wrap things up in three games since he had the white pieces in Game 3, but he would later admit, “today my white games were kind of terrible”.

Magnus confessed to a “shocking misjudgement” when he went for a middlegame position he thought was slightly better only to realise he had no path to equality. Duda missed some crucial details, but still steered towards an ending when he could torture the World Champion.

Rustam shared one of the pleasures of no longer being a professional chess player:

Magnus felt that at some point in the endgame he gave Duda a chance, but the computer shows 0.00 all the way until bare kings on move 74.

That meant Duda was in a must-win situation in the final game, but Magnus this time equalised comfortably with Black and then had a choice of whether to play for more.

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Here he explained:

There was a moment in the last game here where after he went for Bb2 I was thinking, 39…Nxe3+ 40.Kf2 Nc4 was an immediate draw, but then I thought, it’s the last game of the season, let’s try and end on a high note! But then I didn’t really manage to convert it, so I had to force a draw, but then he couldn’t be happy with a draw, of course, and then what he did just lost instead.

Magnus’ attempt to end with a flourish was the exchange sacrifice 39…Rxa2! 40.Bf6+ Kxf6 41.Rxa2 Nxe3+. In the end it worked out, with some help from Jan-Krzysztof!

The only minor blemish on Magnus Carlsen’s record in San Francisco was to “only” beat Liem Le in a blitz tiebreak, meaning he dropped $2,500, but on the other hand that rounded off his winnings to a neat $50,000.

When the dust had settled on the overall winnings for the Tour, Magnus was $80,000 ahead of 2nd placed Jan-Krzysztof Duda.

As if that wasn’t enough, Magnus was also voted the winner of the best game prize for a blitz win against Alireza Firouzja in Miami. He commented:

People are suckers for queen sacrifices, yeah? That was one of my better games of the tour. I was very happy that I managed to calculate precisely with only seconds left, but for instance Duda played a very nice game here, sacrificing practically all his pieces to mate Anish, so there have been a lot of good games played, but I’m happy to have the fans’ support!

Magnus felt he needed the win.

I want to win every tournament that I play and this is certainly no exception. It was very important now to finish on a high note. I didn’t win the last tournament that I played, also the Fischer Random World Championship didn’t go so well, so it was huge to set the record straight here.

He’s looking forward to next year:

I hope to continue to play a lot of events both in the Tour and others, so nobody knows at this point what’s going to happen, but I think whatever will happen it will be good content… I hope that next season also because there will be no conflict of interest with Chess.com, most probably, there will be an even steadier diet of the very top players participating in every event.

There was drama everywhere on the final day. Praggnanandhaa finished 5th in the event, and 3rd in the overall Tour standings, after stopping the late rampage of his Indian colleague Arjun Erigaisi.

In the first game Pragg exploited the blunder of a pawn to inflict a 1st loss in 11 games on Arjun. It wouldn’t be an easy day for Pragg, however, since after a draw in Game 2, Arjun played 1.Nc3!? in Game 3 and went on to play a stunning miniature.

10.Nxh6+! was a correct knight sacrifice.

More impressive, however, was that after 10…Kh7 11.Qf4 Bd6 12.Qg5 Qd7 Arjun played the quiet but powerful 13.h3!, taking away the key g4-square.

It was one of those moves whose power is in part psychological, which also applied to the later 17.Bf6! Pragg could still have fought on, e.g. with 17…Qf5!, forcing off queens, but his 17…Qa4? fell into a second sacrifice of the same knight on h6!

18…gxh6 19.Qxh6 sets up one of the first checkmating patterns any chess beginner learns, but e.g. 18…Kh7 19.Nxf7+ is not going to end any better.

Pragg later commented:

I was just very upset with Game 3, because I kind of made some quick moves in the opening and got into very big trouble, and then ok, in the end I just blundered a mate, otherwise maybe I could have tried to play on a little bit, but I just had to play my best in Game 4 and hope for the best.

Pragg did indeed manage to bounce back as Arjun fell into a trap that Pragg was aware of, with 12…c5?

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13.Rxa6! bxa6 14.dxc5 gave White a big edge as Pragg gradually manoeuvred his queenside pawns up the board to clinch match victory.

Pragg matched the 9 points and $22,500 earnings of Arjun, while taking 5th spot for winning their head-to-head battle. There was another prize, for the performance above expectation for players competing in 5 events or more.

Vincent Keymer took the prize for players involved in 3 or more events, while 15-year-old Christopher Yoo got the prize for players involved in 1 or more events.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov came into the final round on a day when he first played two over-the-board rapid games in the World Team Championship, beating Nodirbek Yakubboev and Hans Niemann. It looked like he would take that form into his online play as he built up a crushing advantage over Liem Le.

It would all come crashing down, however. First one loose pawn push (51.a5? instead of e.g. 51.b7!) and suddenly Liem was winning, until right at the end 53…Nxd1? offered a chance to make a draw.

54.Kc2! was still enough to draw, but after 54.Rxh2? Nf2! the black pawn could no longer be stopped and Liem had taken the lead.

That became 2:0 when Shakh went for a tactic with a major hole in it.

28.Qxb7! stopped checkmate and ensured Liem picked up more than enough material for the queen. To Shakh’s credit he exploited an early mistake by Liem to win one game on demand, but not the second, and Liem ended on a high to take 3rd place.

2nd place went to wild card Wesley So, but not in quite the way he would have wanted, since after four 3-game losses in a row, Anish Giri finally put in a good performance. Anish explained there was no big reason for his struggles, but that losing the first game of five matches in a row hadn’t helped!

This time, however, he drew with Wesley in 79 moves.

That was the signal for the kind of solid chess you might have expected from this match-up before the event began, as all four rapid games were drawn.

In the first blitz game, however, Wesley converted pressure and an edge on the clock into an effortless win. Giri was in a must-win situation with the white pieces, but he finally got something to cheer about. 24…Rxe2? (was the lure of the e-file and it’s tower of pieces too great?) was a blunder, and Anish took the chance to capture the knight on f8 with 25.Rxf8+!

Wesley graciously allowed checkmate to appear on the board with 25…Kxf8 26.Qh8+ Kf7 27.Rf1+ Kg6 28.Qh6# and we had Armageddon.

Giri, as the highest ranked on the tour standings, picked the colour, Black, meaning he only needed a draw but had a minute less on the clock. What followed was wild, with both players winning on the board at times, then Wesley looking certain to win on the clock (there’s no increment), until he finally blundered into a checkmating attack.

“I need to sit down!” said Anish, who summed up:

Today I’ve accomplished all of my goals. First of all, I didn’t lose the match in three games, secondly, I played one good game, and 3rd, the goal that I couldn’t even have dreamt of, is that I won the match, so I’ve accomplished everything today. It’s true redemption for me!

Wesley was still happy to take 2nd place, adding:

First of all, I’d like to congratulate Magnus for a dominating performance this year, also in this tournament. The format here is very interesting, it’s unheard of before, where you win prizes based on match wins not on the standings, so it’s very interesting. It doesn’t really matter how many losses you have as long as you bounce back.

We can’t end the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour without mentioning the remaining Tour-long prize, the Fighting Chess Index. Those bonus prizes — $9,000 each — go to 13-year-old Abhimanyu Mishra (for players in 1 event or more), Levon Aronian (3 or more) and Hans Niemann (5 or more).

We hope you’ve enjoyed the 2022 Meltwater Champions Chess Tour and keep following in 2023!

Replay the Meltwater Champions Chess Tour Finals games!

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Carlsen wins Tour Finals with round to spare

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